ROSE AND ZAATAR

A TASTE OF A LIFE IN LEBANON

Month: December, 2011

Silent Night

This morning, in the brief pause between the alarm going off and getting up we notice and comment on how quiet it is. There is no whirring, no shuddering, no growling of the generator or drill or water tank or whatever it is that we usually hear above our heads, or under the floor, or ricocheting around the walls. This morning there are no snores from sleeping machinery, there is no familiar insistent purr from some faraway cat.

Do you remember that when it’s this quiet in England it often means that it’s snowed? I ask.

We both know that it won’t have snowed on downtown Beirut, and if it has it won’t have settled into a soft blanket of silence over the noisy rooftops. But for a moment I picture it.

In fact, the day turns out to be even warmer than the one before and I have to shade my eyes from the sun as I wait to cross the crazy road. Ahead of me, there is the grand landmark of the mosque, it’s dome one hue bluer than the sky, and in front of it I notice the elegant point of a Christmas tree, a tall green cone, studded with silver globes. I wish I had a camera to capture it. One culture juxtaposed onto another.

No snow in Beirut this Christmas, but no shortage of symbolism.

All I want for dinner is…

Two hours before the start of our Sunday evening dinner party I suddenly decide that I want to make green beans and courgettes fried in garlic as an accompaniment to the lasagne. I run downstairs to the shop at the end of our road, which doesn’t seem to have regular opening hours, and sure enough find it open, and its owner-who I believe is trying to teach me Arabic, one bunch of mint, two oranges, three thousand lire at a time- there to greet me, nodding his head, smiling, saying ‘Ahlein’, welcome.  But there are no green beans, and no courgettes. I perform a pantomime of looking under boxes, scratching my head, and searching around the shop in vain for something I can use instead, or at least for something I can buy so that I don’t have to leave empty-handed. All the while, the little man talks to me in Arabic, chuckling to himself. I imagine he is saying

‘What are you looking for? It isn’t here!’

In the end I give up and pick up an onion and a lemon, always useful, even if not tonight.

I hand them to him and he weighs them on his ancient scales, still laughing quietly and playing along with my pretence that they were what I wanted all along. He puts them in a small bag, hands them to me, pauses and then says ‘Un cadeaux!’ A gift!

I practically fly up the 3 flights of stairs home, fuelled by delight and wanting to tell my husband about my first Christmas present of the year. My usual ‘if only’ mantra (if only I had thought about things in advance we could have eaten green beans) disappears, after all if only I had thought about it in advance I would never have been given my serendipitous gift.

In the end I decide to make a side dish from half an aubergine, a tiny courgette I find at the bottom of the fridge, and handfuls of herbs and garlic. It is only just enough for four people but the wrinkly skinned lemon and the fat onion more than make up for it in my heart.

11th December 2011- WE REFUSE!

We are just about to fill a whole trout fit to burst with lemon, garlic, parsley and tomato when we realise that the gas has run out.  We go to the local shop where we think we can get a new one but lack of Arabic and confidence in ourselves to actually change the bottle means we leave empty handed. On the way back up upstairs we stop at our neighbour’s house, hoping she may be able to advise us. Despite our best attempts we can’t refuse her offer to come in and sit down and eat cake!

We give up on the idea of gas for tonight and instead of fish for dinner we have pastries, piled high with cream and golden cubes of mango or layered and smothered with chocolate.

Our neighbour, a widow who lives alone with her 18 year old son has guests, her excellent English speaking sister and her sweet spectacled niece.

Somehow we end up talking about war. One sister says she doesn’t think Lebanon will remain stable for much longer, even though it wouldn’t be fair, as they have already had their war. The other sister, our neighbour, says that we can’t have another war,

‘We refuse!’ and she brings her hand down hard on the arm of her chair.

Her sister shrugs ‘You refuse but they won’t listen’

‘No we have to refuse! We refuse!’ our neighbour says again stamping her foot almost like an indignant child. She is laughing, we are all laughing, but there is something resolute in her eyes.

As we go back home I wonder if the will of the people will be enough. I stamp my own feet up the stairs, it will have to be. We refuse!

11th November 2011 An Auspicious Day

As I had said I would, I flew to Lebanon on the 11th day of the 11th month of 2011, knowing nothing of numerology, but hoping, deciding, to make it an auspicious day.

It is the day that my gorgeous engaged friend had in her diary as the day to go wedding dress shopping. When it had looked unlikely that I would be flying on the 11th, I comforted myself with the thought, wrapping it around me like a silk shawl, that at least I could look at wedding dresses instead, be a part of her rite of passage, if I couldn’t make my own.

In the end, she had to cancel. And I, to everyone’s surprise, got my ticket after all. I got my plan A, and decided it would be a beginning, everything set to 1.